Obsidian is a game I’ve been meaning to post about for some time. I’m always baffled that more people haven’t played it, even though Rocket Science Games went out of business shortly after it came out. The commercials were eerie and memorable; I would have expected more people to be intrigued. It’s definitely one of my all-time favorite games!
Obsidian was one of the “just like Myst” games that came out in the 90’s. Myst left a HUGE impression on me, so I had doubts even at my age that another game could capture that magic. I was all of ten years old when Myst came out and my dad gave me a copy as a gift, this came out three years later. Obsidian, as it turned out, was better than I expected by being undeniably its own game.
The similarities with Myst are only in the broadest outlines of the game, not in the details or the story. Obsidian is a first person adventure/puzzle game with multiple worlds to visit, no combat or death, and an inventory limited to specific puzzle items. The game has more than one possible ending, depending on a choice the player makes. The only other thing they have in common is a sense of magic.
You play as Lilah. She and her partner, Max, have recently launched the Ceres satellite. The year is 2066 and Ceres, with the help of nanobots, has just completed 100 days in orbit around Earth, repairing the ozone layer and cleaning the air. Ceres is equipped with a powerful AI, and the crew have just taken her off human control.
While I’m not sure I noticed at the time, I love that the two human characters in the game are a woman and a black man. Ceres sees herself as female as well, long before GlaDOS. I suppose there’s also the fact that Lilah is the one trying to rescue Max, and they are both portrayed as equally intelligent and capable. They feel like real people, and I like knowing someone made those choices in 1996.
Lilah and Max are in the middle of the woods camping, on a much needed vacation from the successful project. It’s in these woods that the Obsidian structure first appears, and then grows. Soon after starting the game and looking through Lilah’s laptop, you leave your tent in search of Max, only to hear his scream in the distance. Once you approach Obsidian, you fall into worlds you’ve never imagined.
Sounds corny, but that’s how I felt when I first played it, and the memory lasts til today. I had a sense of walking into something new, and mysterious, and beautiful.
Where Myst was very book-themed, Obsidian’s theme is dreams and the subconscious. The worlds you visit echo the dreams of Lilah and Max (found as journal entries and videos on that laptop, before you know they matter). The player visits places like “The Church of the Machine” and an odd bureaucracy built on the inside walls of a giant cube – all six walls. The artwork tends to be surrealistic and dream-like.
The puzzles and worlds often use a sort of “dream logic.” To progress at one point, the player must play a word game with a computer. Later, they must trap a tornado to give a machine “breath.” It’s hard to explain, but I had an easier time with these puzzles than the ones in Myst. The answers do make sense intuitively, and the connections were easier for me to find. The most difficult and potentially frustrating puzzle of the game even had its answer printed in the instruction booklet.
The writers of this game had a marvelous sense of humor, and each little bit of story or weirdness is worth finding. There’s even a direct callback to Myst at one point, with a man on a monitor shrieking that he needs blue pages. At thirteen I saw that, and I’m not ashamed to say I probably squealed.
More fun additions include extra games you can play with the aforementioned computer. One is 20 questions, in which the computer is designed to learn with each answer, similar to the 20Q electronic game. This computer also asks the player to input questions that will help it figure out a wrong guess in the future. If it guessed cat, and the player was thinking of a tiger, it asks for the correct answer. Then asks for a question that would distinguish a cat from a tiger. Then asks what the answer would be to that question. It keeps all of this information in a text file on your computer; in theory it could eventually guess anything correctly. These options (and others!) weren’t integral to the story, they were just pieces of awesome lying around for the player to find.
That computer also has a snarky sense of humor, as you’ll see if you ask it to play Hide and Seek or Hangman.
I almost don’t want to mention too much, for fear of spoilers…but with the company long out of business it can be hard to find copies. The game (all five disks of it!) was made to run on Windows95 and has never been re-released on either Steam or GOG. I’ve found a handful of Let’s Plays online, but for what’s it’s worth, I haven’t seen one where they found ALL of the secrets and Easter eggs. This is also one of those games that is best experienced through play the first time.
I haven’t played a game like Obsidian since. If you don’t want to go looking for a copy I would recommend at least finding a playthrough. My favorite was this longplay without commentary. I recently found this one which does include player commentary. I’ve also found a link to just the intro of the game here.